BEIJING (AP) — China's August export growth accelerated, adding to signs of a gradual recovery for the world's second-largest economy, while import growth weakened.

Exports rose 7.2 percent to $190.7 billion, accelerating from July's 5.1 percent growth, customs data showed Sunday. Imports rose 7 percent to $162.1 billion, but that was down from July's 10.9 percent.

Stronger sales of Chinese goods abroad are a positive sign for communist leaders who want to avoid job losses in export-driven manufacturing.

China's economic growth fell to a two-decade low of 7.5 percent in the second quarter but the latest industrial data suggest the slowdown might be leveling out.

Communist leaders have tried to perk up growth with higher spending on railway construction and tax cuts for small businesses. But they have resisted appeals for more stimulus, saying they want to focus instead on reforms to make the economy more efficient and productive.

"The combination of steady growth and muted inflation provides a good environment for the authorities to push forward long-term structural reforms," said UBS economist Tao Wang in a report last week.

Chinese leaders are expected to announce a reform package after a Communist Party meeting in November but are rumored to be locked in heated debates over the details.

Much of China's slowdown over the past three years is due not to global economic malaise, but to communist leaders' efforts to shift the basis of growth from exports and investment to more self-sustaining domestic consumption.

Beijing has tightened controls to cool a construction and investment boom. But consumer spending is rising more slowly than planned, which has left the country more dependent on exports than Chinese leaders want.

Manufacturing activity expanded in August but export orders declined due to weak U.S. and European demand. Factory output, construction and auto sales also have improved in recent months.

August's deceleration in export growth might indicate a hiccup in domestic demand. But July's imports were far above private sector forecasts, boosting the average for the two months.

The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters have cut their China growth forecast for this year but to a still robust level of 7.5 to 8 percent. That would be China's weakest performance since the early 1990s but is ahead of low single-digit growth forecast for the United States, Europe and Japan.

"How strong and how long the recovery will last will depend on the U.S. recovery and general global environment," said Tao.